I’ve already said everything I have to say about this guy

… I started to scribble a post about the first criminal indictment of an American President in history, about the seamy grifting, decades of corruption and braggart arrogance that brought everything to this point, but honestly, I’m sick to death of that idiot, and you probably are, too, and at this point I am utterly baffled, to the point of incoherence, at the notion that any sentient human being on the planet actually wants this undead ghoul, this endlessly returning shambling mass of all America’s worst and darkest instincts, this craven sack of nihilistic empty ego, to ever come anywhere near public office again.

Like, haven’t we all had enough?

I started to write something, anyway, and then realised that pretty much everything I wrote back in late 2020 is still very much true today, only perhaps more so. So read that instead:

We’re all still living in Nixonland

All my action movie heroes are still older than me

Getting old, as most people realise eventually, is weird. You go seemingly overnight from being the youngest guy in the office to a balding, withered spectre who doesn’t understand TikToks. 

But one thing that still makes me feel curiously young is my favourite newer action movies, where the folks I enjoy watching the most still are older than me by nearly a decade. 

Watching Keanu Reeves shoot, stab and kick his way through an unceasing army of bad dudes in the wonderfully over-the-top new John Wick: Chapter 4, one thing kept coming into my mind as the high-octane carnage unfolded:

This dude is 58 years old.

Keanu Reeves is 58 years old, yet still mowing down bodies by the dozens in the Wick franchise. Donnie Yen, who might just be one of the few people on Earth even cooler than Keanu, is fantastic in John Wick 4 as his blind frenemy, is 59 years old and still kicks amazing ass. 

Tom Cruise is 60 years old, yet he blew the box office away by piloting the surprisingly decent Top Gun: Maverick to record numbers last year. I’m among the Ethan Hunt stans eagerly awaiting his Mission Impossible 7 later this year, as it’s been the most reliable James Bond-style franchise in decades. 

Michelle Yeoh, also 60, kicked ass and won an Oscar in Everything Everywhere All At Once; Bob Odenkirk, also 60, was a surprise action star in the grittily fun Nobody. 

Sylvester Stallone has probably retired from the Rambo and Rocky franchises but is still smacking meatheads about in the delightfully silly Tulsa King at 76 years old. Harrison Ford is freakin’ 80 years old, but he’s still saddling up for one more Indiana Jones movie later this year, and even if my heart has been broken in the past, you know I’ll be there for it. 

Sure, a good chunk of what we see on screen now is probably stunt doubles and clever CGI, but even so, it’s hard not to watch John Wick 4 and think that 58-year-old Keanu must have been pretty damned sore after some of those filming days. Put me in Wick’s stylish shoes and I’d be crumbled into a gelatinous heap after the first two scenes. 

Yeah, I know young folk still star in action movies, although even some of the Marvel Universe stars are showing their age (Ant-Man Paul Rudd, 53, for instance). But honestly, the action movies I get excited about these days seem to star those old, familiar faces.

Is it because Tom and Keanu have been around in movies since I was a teenager myself that I enjoy watching them grow increasingly weathered and yet still capable of punching ninjas and flying jet planes? Do the lines on their faces give them a little more authority on screen? 

Or do they bring the weight of me seeing their baby faces in Cocktail and Point Break a lifetime ago to their modern-day adventures and that somehow makes their action movies resonate more for me than watching some young dude in his 30s who just makes me think, jeezus, when did I stop being 30? 

Possibly so. Then again, maybe it’s just because Keanu, Tom, Michelle and company have been doing this for so long that they just do it really, really bloody well. 

All the cool pop stars are half my age now and authors who win Booker Prizes here in New Zealand are more than a decade younger than me, but gosh darn it, my action movie heroes are still older than me, and I hope they’ve got a few more big-screen punches left in them yet. 

The Lost World Of Small Press, Part IV: The Storytellers

Small press comics! Where no story is too small to tell, hence the name! Here’s part four of my ongoing occasional look at The Lost World Of Small Press and obscure and famous zines, comics and mimeographed gems from the 1990s. 

One of the most popular forms of small press comics is the autobiographical comic – stories, big or small, about ordinary lives. The late great Harvey Pekar’s American Splendor was the godfather to this genre, and it’s in some ways one of the easiest ways to get going on a comic – just tell your story. Sure, there’s a hundred mediocre autobio comics for every good one, but there’s a lot of greatness in this genre. Here’s random samples from my collection of five creators who excelled at it!

King-Cat Comics and Stories #70, 2009, John Porcellino – Porcellino is another legend in small press and autobio comics – he’s been running his series King-Cat Comics since 1989 and still going strong. He has a simple, spare yet amiable style, slowly polished to perfection over the years. Like the best autobio comics, he doesn’t do sprawling epics, but instead picks up on the little beauties of life.

This sample issue from a few years back tells about getting his wisdom teeth out and the hunt for a local folk artist in brief comic stories, but it also includes some of Porcellino’s gentle abstract “tone poems” which are barely stories at all – just moments, glimpsed in memory, turned into a few vivid words and drawings and yet somehow, encapsulating a little bit of everything. (Porcellino’s early zines have also been collected in some hefty books which are worth seeking out.) 

Dishwasher #12, 1994, Pete Jordan – I’ve written about Dishwasher Pete before, and his quixotic quest to wash dishes in all 50 states and publishing zines about it along the way. There’s something so totally ‘90s about Pete’s semi-slacker lifestyle, and becoming a bit of a cult hero along the way with his erratic zine with dishwashing stories, cartoons and more. This is the only issue of the zine I ever picked up and one of the final ones, but packed with fun stuff. It’s a great mix of Pete’s journal style entries of gigs in Mississippi and Arkansas, an excerpt from a 1930s dishwasher’s account, tips for proper dishwashing and amusing cartoon anecdotes and letters from other dishwashers. These days, shudder to think, Pete would probably have to be some kind of TikTok dish influencer to get noticed, but back then, a handmade zine felt, well, just more real, man. Fortunately for Dishwasher Pete fans, after hanging up his scrubs he later wrote a very entertaining memoir of his “dish dog” days that’s worth seeking out. 

Southern Fried #3, 1998, Jerry Smith – Jerry drew a series of chilled-out autobio comics about life and growing up in the South that had a lot of heart and debunked a lot of the lazier broad stereotypes about the South, even as he’s writing about hunting turtles or the local good ol’ boys. In this sample issue, he also drew some quietly devastating work about his relationship with his dad or the memories of his grandmother. Jerry’s work always felt to me the epitome of the “everyone’s got a story inside them” mantra – and everyone’s life is just as interesting as your own, examined the right way. I always liked Jerry’s art in these comics, a kind of rubbery realism which kind of skirts right at the line of being “ugly art” – that’s not a putdown, but there’s a kind of intense texture which makes his characters feel very lived-in. He’s still out there doing comics and art which is worth hunting for. 

Destined #3, 1997, Jeff Zenick – Back before you followed people on social media, you might follow their lives through zines. Jeff Zenick put out a lot of whimsical, candid “travel journal” type zines of his bicycle wanderings around the U.S. back in the day and I’ve always enjoyed their insightful, gentle charms. This issue of Destined tells of Jeff’s adventures in Oregon in a series of diary entries, illustrated with these finely detailed little landscape pen and ink drawings. There’s no real “plot” here, only a guy wandering around, visiting diners and coffee joints, taking on odd jobs and simply enjoying the pleasure of being, in a way that feels utterly present now – perhaps that’s just the nostalgia talking. (The only down side I find about some of these old zines when I re-read them now is that the sometimes tiny handwritten text is way harder to read for these ageing eyes.) These days Zenick does a lot of great portraits and art which can be sought out online too.

Tales From The Petro-Canada Man #4, 1994, Jason Marcy – Jay and I became pals back in the 1990s and we’re still pals today, so I’m biased as heck about him, but he is one of the great unsung autobiographical cartoonists around, doing brutally honest work for more than 30 (!) years now. He started out with his superhero parody “Powerwus,” but really found his calling with a series of tales about his life and work. The six-part Tales From The Petro-Canada Man comic, loosely organised around his late-night job at a petrol station and meeting the woman he’d go on to marry, are still fantastic work, scrappy and raw but sincere. Jay’s one, two or three-page strips were heavily influenced by the cartoonist Joe Matt (who was big in the 1990s, but Jay has actually gone on to be far more productive than Joe ever was). He’s unafraid to reveal all, from his mental health struggles to his, um, bodily functions (I still have nightmares about a few of his toilet strips) but there’s always a real humility and openness to his work that keeps it from ever feeling too exhibitionistic. A lot of autobio comics also tend to get whiny and maudlin but Jay’s work is often side-splittingly funny. Jay has gone on to do graphic novels and web toons and is still doing great autobio comics today, check out his Patreon!

Also in this series:

The Lost World Of Small Press, Part III: Mysterious minicomics

The Lost World of Small Press Part II: Minicomics maestros

The Lost World of Small Press, Part I: Bruce Chrislip makes history

Movies I Have Never Seen #22: Arsenic and Old Lace (1944)

What is it? I’m a movie-loving goof, and I’m still on my post-Oscars coverage high this week. And as a movie goof, I sometimes find myself staring off into space mulling the big questions – such as, who was the greatest movie star of all time? And the answer almost always is, Cary Grant, of course. 

“We had faces,” goes the famous line from Sunset Boulevard, and iron-chinned Grant perhaps had the greatest movie face of all. Less rugged than Bogart, more confident than Jimmy Stewart, a bit harder than Marilyn Monroe, Cary Grant could do broad comedy or bold adventure and rarely did a star make it all seem so effortless. Much of the DNA you find in Tom Cruise today comes straight from the Cary Grant foundation. 

Arsenic and Old Lace is a classic stage farce which still gets rolled out for local theatre productions on a regular basis, where two charming little old ladies are revealed to be disarmingly genial serial killers – plus, there’s a criminal on the run, a befuddled newlywed, fumbling cops and a confused fellow who thinks he’s Teddy Roosevelt. It’s a farce with a staggeringly high body count (13 bodies in the basement!) that somehow remains charmingly light on its feet. Frank Capra’s 1944 adaptation of the beloved play was originally going to star Bob Hope, and believe me, we’d barely remember it today if that bland hambone starred in it. Instead, Cary Grant signed on to play critic and playwright Mortimer Brewster (that name!) and it became one of his sweatiest, most frenetic performances. Turns out there’s few things funnier than watching smooth, smooth Cary Grant slowly come apart over the course of two hours. 

Why I never saw it: I’ve loved Cary Grant for decades, from his iconic Hitchcock roles to the early screwball stuff – The Philadelphia Story might be the single most starpower-packed comedy of all time, and surely Bringing Up Baby is the awkward height of the “meet cute” romance trope? His Girl Friday, still one of the best journalism movies of all time? But Arsenic and Old Lace somehow slipped through the cracks for me. Grant’s been gone for coming up on 40 years now, but there’s still gold in that there filmography to be mined for a movie goof. 

Does it measure up to its rep? I’ll make a slight confession – unlike other movies in this occasional series, I actually watched Arsenic and Old Lace twice before writing this up, a month or so apart. Partly that’s because of the bombastic pace of these witty old comedies, where the jokes and puns fly so fast that you barely absorb them all (seriously, if you’ve never watched His Girl Friday some time, it’s like a machine gun barrage of witty verbiage). So on the first viewing Arsenic is an energetic slap to the face, but it’s on a second viewing that the sheer craft of Capra’s stagecraft shows, with Grant’s immaculate comic timing, Raymond Massey’s jarringly sinister calm, Peter Lorre’s invaluable pop-eyed sidekick anxiety and the utterly hilarious Josephine Hull (who looks disarmingly like the late Rip Torn in drag) and Jean Adair as Grant’s dotty, murderous aunties. They’re quite convinced they’re doing the lord’s work by poisoning lonely old men, you see.  

Like most farces, it’s all a jumble of moving parts that somehow barely holds together. There are a few dated and strained comic gags (the Teddy Roosevelt stuff gets a bit much), but most of it still works beautifully. Filmed more than 80 years ago, it’s still stagey and broad (it never really lets you forget it was originally a play) but it’s also a masterpiece of comic chaos with a twisted, dark underbelly that lets it hold up better than some other farces of the era – a scene where Mortimer is about to be tortured by his sinister brother goes into some pretty darned dark places before the comedy kicks in again. 

Worth seeing? The thing with a broad farce is you absolutely have to be on its wavelength and roll with it. The densely silly farces of yesteryear with their rat-a-tat pace aren’t meant to be watched while also scrolling through Twitter and checking your emails. If you abandon distraction and go with the flow, Arsenic and Old Lace is a goofy blast of anarchy, with Cary Grant at his loosest and silliest.

In a week where Hollywood once again lined up to celebrate its stars and stories, it’s not a bad time to take a moment to salute the king, who shockingly never won a competitive Oscar. There was only one Cary Grant, after all. 

Concert Review: Pavement, Auckland, March 7

Look, we’re all a bit nostalgic for the 1990s these days, right? It’s a cliche, but it’s almost relaxing to recall an era where pop culture’s greatest fear was “selling out” rather than worrying about climate apocalypse, social media overload, misinformation and creeping fascism. It was hardly perfect but we like to imagine it was.

Not every ’90s band is the same. I can’t remember the last time I listened to Pearl Jam, but I put on a Pavement song every week or two at the very least. For a band whose full albums precisely spanned the 1990s, from 1992’s Slanted And Enchanted to 1999’s Terror Twilight, they feel far less bound to their era than others. Pavement returned to New Zealand for a fantastic show at the Civic Theatre last night and reminded us all why they still matter, decades after their final album. 

I saw Pavement play their first reunion tour in 2010 (reviewed on Version 1.0 of my website) and it was marvellous fun, but 13 years on, even though they’ve never put out any new music, they felt even more contemporary somehow – all the angst and weirdness of the last few years just seem to make them more relevant than ever. 

The band were a bit looser and more playful than in 2010, stretching out nicely in extended spacey jams on songs like “Type Slowly” that built on the hazy vibe, with frontman Stephen Malkmus’ spiky guitar solos evoking the late great Tom Verlaine of Television and his own relaxed and sprawling solo albums. 

Pavement have often been misleadingly described as “slacker rock,” including probably by myself at some point, but it occurred to me that lazy label obscures the amiable craftwork behind their songs – earworm nuggets like “Gold Soundz,” “Summer Babe” or the surprising viral hit B-side “Harness Your Hopes” have a tight power pop catchiness at their core. 

Malkmus’ lyrics have always had a charmingly casual quality to them, sounding like a super-relaxed rapper. But no matter how surreal the songs may get with their asides about Geddy Lee’s voice or how sexy Stone Temple Pilots are, Malkmus always managed to sound disarmingly sincere. “I’m an island of such great complexity,” he sings in one of my top 10 Pavement songs, “Shady Lane,” and the key is he never makes that seem like hard work. 

They had the blissful upbeat tunes like “Cut Your Hair” and “Stereo,” but there’s always been a gently melancholy core to the band, too, a quality which helps their music endure in numbers like “Here” or “Stop Breathing.” I’ve listened to my favourite of their albums, 1997’s Brighten The Corners, about a zillion times and still manage to come away with new things from each song. 

Last week I had the pleasure of “writing up” – as they say in the biz – an interview Pavement’s Bob Nastanovich gave to Radio New Zealand’s Music 101 before their show, talking about how NZ’s classic Flying Nun bands like The Clean and Chris Knox influenced their sound. Maybe that’s why they sounded faintly alien in the flannel 1990s. They hailed from Stockton, California, and were an ordinary-looking group of dudes, but at their core Pavement were inspired more by bands like Can and The Fall than KISS and Led Zeppelin. They have always been a rather unique brew of American casual and avant-garde surrealism. 

Everyone seemed to have a different favourite song last night, as Pavement dipped between their “hits” and more obscure numbers. That’s kind of the beauty of their work – it’s whatever you want it to be.

I’m sorry if I ever called them slacker rock – they’re their own beast, really. Maybe it’s the dream of the 1990s, hazy and irresistible like that summer babe in the distance, unforgettable and you’ve always just missed her. 

Farewell Ricou Browning, the last of the Universal Classic Monsters

He was the last of the monsters, the creatures who stalked the screen in vivid black and white, the horror icons of an age before blood ran red on the screens. Ricou Browning, who died this week at age 93, was the last living person who played one of the classic Universal Movie Monsters. 

The Universal monstersBoris Karloff’s Frankenstein, Bela Lugosi’s Dracula, The Mummy, The Invisible Man, Lon Chaney Jr.’s Wolfman and more – lit up the screens in the 1930s through 1956 and helped define what we think of when we think of movie monsters. You think of Frankenstein’s monster, you think of Karloff’s looming golem, you think of Dracula, you probably think of Lugosi’s slick old-world menace. I fell in love with the Universal movies as a kid during afterschool TV marathons when I first watched flicks like Ghost of Frankenstein and The Mummy’s Hand. 

But my favourite was 1954’s The Creature From The Black Lagoon, which I taped on a battered VHS cassette that I watched over and over periodically for years. It’s still a succinct, chilling little fable about man meddling with nature and the uncanny allure of how beauty killed the beast. The monster was one of the best movie designs of the era – perhaps only second to Jack Pierce’s Frankenstein makeup – and recently Mallory O’Meara’s book The Lady From The Black Lagoon delves into the fascinating, contentious story of how it came to be.

The Gill-Man creature of the title was played by several people, Ben Chapman on land, and Browning, a lifeguard and excellent swimmer who at age 23 was recruited to play the monster in the film’s iconic underwater scenes.

Browning played the Gill-Man in the underwater scenes in the first Creature and the sequels Revenge of the Creature and The Creature Walks Among Us, a role which technically didn’t require a lot of acting – I’d imagine most of his attention was taken up by actually trying to swim in that monster gear. Yet, those scenes in the first movie particularly where the Gill-Man drifts, ominously, beneath the grey waters and stalks the gorgeous Julie Adams are indelible landmarks in creepy horror. Adams, the object of the Creature’s affections, died herself a couple years back

The few minutes where the Gill Man and Adams do a kind of underwater duet, the monster mirroring his unaware obsession, are among the finest in Universal Horror history.

The silent way the Creature stalks Adams, nearly touching her drifting toes, made an impression on Young Nik watching on TV reruns, and the influence of a scene like that – where horror is implied, rather than splashed and splattered – can be seen everywhere from Jaws to John Carpenter’s original Halloween all the way on up to the modern day in your better horror movies. 

Browning, who was just a kid when he first donned that gill man suit 70 years ago, outlived his fellow Universal monster actors by more than 50 years – Karloff, Lugosi and Chaney Jr. were all gone by 1973 – and for years he enjoyed his peculiar fame on the convention circuit among the still quite active world of classic horror fans. Unlike Chaney Jr and Lugosi, who died neglected addicts, he lived a long, fulfilling life (among his other movie underwater credits were Flipper and James Bond’s Thunderball). 

Julie Adams and Ricou Browning in 2014 (Photo: Monster Bash News)

Still, Ricou Browning was the last of his kind – the unforgettable monster from the deep who swam beneath your feet, always in black and white, terrifying and yet slightly sympathetic like the best of monsters. Universal’s Classic Monster greats are all gone now, but they still lurk on, flickering away every time I rewatch one of the classic scares. 

Black Goliath – The big hero who never quite measured up

Black Goliath, ironically, may not have been the biggest superhero of all time, but he’s always one I’ve been weirdly fond of.

Yet this C-list Marvel superhero, who has only made a token appearance in the Marvel Cinematic Universe in his civilian identity to date, always seemed to get the short end of the stick. His solo series died before it even got going, his character changed names a lot, and ended up being pointlessly killed in a mega-hero crossover event to give it some weak dramatic heft. 

Back in the day, I found a single issue of Black Goliath in a pile of ‘70s comics I was trading with a friend. I’d never even heard of this hero, so I was intrigued. I liked the very ‘70s goofy costume design, all bright blue and yellows, bizarre bare midriff and his towering swagger. 

Black Goliath was Bill Foster – described as “a child of the ghetto who has pulled himself out of the Los Angeles slums to become director of one of the nation’s most prestigious research labs” and who could now turn himself into a 15-foot-giant. He first appeared in a few Avengers issues as a civilian back in the 1960s before turning up with super-growing powers in a few issues of Luke Cage, Power Man. 

But his hyped 1976 solo comic lasted a mere five issues, failing to ever get out of first gear. He fought nondescript villains like “Atom Smasher” and “Vulcan” (plus the towering Stilt-Man, which was actually a pretty clever match-up) and plotlines were teased but never fully explored. 

Black Goliath never quite got a chance. After his series was cut short, Black Goliath briefly popped up as a member of second-tier superhero team The Champions before they too got cancelled. 

Years later, Foster turned up as a supporting character in Marvel Two-In-One starring The Thing, where he was slowly dying from radiation poisoning and eventually cured. It was at this point he changed his hero name from Black Goliath to plain Giant-Man, at the Thing’s suggestion. “I mean, it’s pretty obvious that you’re black – and if I remember my Sunday school lessons, Goliath was a bad guy,” he noted. 

He moped around for a while, but Black Goliath/Giant-Man’s defining characteristic in his appearances always seemed to be that he never made the ‘big time.’ He tended to lose fights a lot. Too much of the time he appeared, his major defining characteristic was an inferiority complex, which was a bummer – as a successful Black biochemist in that era, Bill Foster could have been written a bit more uplifting (literally and figuratively). 

Kind of like another favourite obscure 1970s hero fave of mine, Omega The Unknown, Black Goliath is kind of a failure at the job. 

Worst of all, Black Goliath was killed off as random cannon fodder in Marvel’s overwrought Civil War comic years ago, murdered by a clone of Thor (!) and dismissively bid farewell in a cringey panel showing his giant-sized body was too big to properly bury. In an added bit of debasement his corpse was dug up in an issue of Mighty Avengers so bad guys could attempt to steal his powers. Black Goliath, Giant Man, whatever you wanted to call him, deserved better.

I recognise the whiff of exploitation that hangs around those early ‘70s Black superheroes like Black Goliath, Black Lightning and Luke Cage – mostly written entirely by white guys, most of them were rage-filled angry Black men stereotypes in a lot of ways. And yet – they were also representation for a group who were roundly ignored in mainstream comics before then.

Superman debuted in 1939 but the first major Black superhero, the Black Panther, didn’t debut until 1966. (There were earlier Black heroes, but they were pretty obscure.) Nearly 50 years ago, having a Black genius biochemist – or an African king – be a superhero felt a bit revolutionary, despite some of the more cliched acts of their portrayals. 

Laurence Fishburne played scientist Bill Foster in a small role in 2018’s Ant Man and the Wasp, but we were denied the glory of ever watching him Goliath up himself. 

Though he’s not likely to end up the next big MCU superstar anytime soon, I still like Black Goliath. Perhaps it’s because he is kind of an underdog superhero, and I always liked those. 

Sometimes you gotta stick up for the little (but really actually very big) guy. 

The best Beatle and nine other Hot Takes About Music

I always wanted to be a real music critic. A hardboiled, unshaven take-no-prisoners wordsmith like Lester Bangs, Robert Christgau or Jim DeRogatis. I wanted to be William Miller in Almost Famous.

But I never really quite managed to make that a full-time gig among the many hats I’ve worn in my journalism career, really. I’ve been editor of alternative weekly newspapers back when they still existed, written lots and lots of music reviews and talked about music on the radio and covered concerts, I’ve interviewed Alice Cooper and once had someone from the band Phish call me and yell at my answering machine over a snarky dumb article I wrote about them, and I started this whole crazy writing career off with an internship at music mag Billboard way back in the day, but still… I’m no Lester Bangs. I just sometimes write about music I like.

And now that I’m a gentleman of a certain age, I accept that I’ve lost touch with what the kids are into with their TikToks and suchlike. Although I do try to still discover new stuff now and again, in my heart of hearts, my musical lodestone still remains roughly 1972-1988, I guess. Accept who you are, at a certain point, I reckon.

That doesn’t stop me from having the opinions on music, but I also recognise that at a certain point, yet another middle-aged white guy rambling on about nerdy obsessions about albums that came out decades ago is a bit well, cliche. But sometimes, you gotta let your opinions out or they fester in your brain and cause an aneurysm. None of them are quite worth a post on their own, but the frustrated music writer in me insists on laying them down like it was 1987 and this was a bad column in Spin magazine.

Thus, here’s 10 Hot Takes About Rock Music I Will Not Be Explaining Any Further. Please feel free to discuss and debunk. 

1. George Harrison had the best and most interesting solo career of the Beatles. 

2. I will always choose to listen to The Sex Pistols over The Clash.

3. Almost every Guns N’ Roses song would be better with the final 60-90 seconds cut off. (Seriously, listen to “November Rain” sometime.) 

4. The Rolling Stones should have broken up when Charlie Watts died.

5. I prefer Phil Collins as lead singer of Genesis.

6. I think David Bowie’s techno-jungle 1997 midlife crisis album Earthling is one of his five best albums.

7. I have switched back and forth between loving and hating the Doors at least five times in my music listening lifetime. I still can’t figure out which side I land on. 

8. Frank Zappa was the better musician technically, but Captain Beefheart’s croaky stomps were more sincere and hold up better. 

9. I’ve listened to Prince’s delightfully silly Batman album more times than any of his records other than Purple Rain. 

10. I don’t really care for Pink Floyd

What Cyclone Gabrielle took away, and what we’re left with.

It wasn’t fancy, I guess, but we liked it. My late father-in-law Peter Siddell built this bach, or beach house, more than 50 years ago now, from a garage kit-set. It was tucked away in the bush way out in West Auckland at Karekare a relatively short walk from the beach, and somewhat hidden from the world down a narrow plant-lined path. 

Now it sits red-stickered and smashed, like so many other houses and baches after Cyclone Gabrielle’s wrath last week. At least 11 people are dead and countless lives shattered, in ways big and small.

For decades, this unassuming bach, or beach house – no TV, no phone, a rather rugged outhouse toilet – was the centre of one family’s life. As children my wife and her sister spent weeks at a time out there, only going back to the city occasionally, sunburnt and sandblasted by long days on the black sands. It wasn’t a flashy place – it was a space to doze and read magazines in between beach adventures, to while away the long summer nights under starry skies. 

My in-laws Peter and Sylvia held frequent parties, the bush ringing with laughter and the sound of clinking wine glasses. You could see Karekare’s grand ominous rocky outcrop the Watchman from the deck, and before the dunes shifted and trees grew, you could see the sharp lines of the Tasman Sea against the horizon. 

When I first visited New Zealand with my new wife in 2000, the bach she’d talked about so much was one of the first places we visited. 

After my in-laws died in 2011, the bach passed to the next generation. It became a bit quieter without Peter and Sylvia there, but was still regularly used. The grandchildren grew up and became old enough to go out for a night with their mates. It may have been a little less busy than it once was, it may have been starting to take a lot of work to keep it in good nick, but we still loved our little humble bach.

Then sometime on the evening of February 13, Cyclone Gabrielle smashed through Karekare and the rest of the country, and tonnes of mud and trees slid down the steep hills, knocking our old bach aside like it was made of cardboard. 

It is a story repeated hundreds of times around Aotearoa this week – a family place, a special taonga, taken away in a rush of water and wind. 

We are so very lucky compared to so many others, we know, and whānau all over are feeling that strange and empty kind of pain a disaster like this carves out of ordinary life. 

We can’t get out to see our bach yet because of the dangerous closed road conditions, but we’re starting to get an idea of how devastating the cyclone was for the Karekare community.

In photos seen from above, twin slips gave way on either side of the bach, endangering it and other houses around.

We don’t know yet what will become of it in the end, but it doesn’t look good. Photos captured by neighbours show a building knocked askew, the sturdy deck timbers warped like they were rubber by the sliding foundation. The musty long-drop toilet we kept meaning to replace has seemingly been wiped from the face of the earth. The makeshift bath has fallen away from the house. Yet weirdly, some tiny pots on a bench on the slanting deck haven’t moved at all, and the windows appear intact. 

Karekare is a tiny place that’s only a permanent home for 300 or so people, best known for having several scenes from Jane Campion’s The Piano shot there. Like a lot of people, I’m over much of social media these days, but community groups online have proved invaluable for getting information out from the closed-off coast. 

The people stuck out there have gathered for cheery barbecues, as the mud is swept up and the cracked and battered places surveyed by engineers and insurers. They have rustled up ways to get children to school somehow despite shattered roads. 

One woman lost her beloved home, but in the middle of the crisis she reached out to offer some of the donated clothing she received to others. 

“Karekare has always been the best place in the world, and it is the people that make it next level amazing,” she wrote on the local Facebook page. 

It is true these are just places and things, and the horrifying loss of life in Gabrielle is by far the worst thing about the cyclone. Muriwai, just up the coast, is still grieving the death of two volunteer firefighters. Everyone is starkly aware things could have been even worse. 

But each place and thing that has been lost in the cyclone also has meaning for people, whether it’s a grassy back yard children have played in for years, a beloved tree that shaded people as they dozed in the sun, a battered old chair that was a comfortable companion every evening for someone. 

Any kind of natural disaster, whether it’s flood, fire or earthquake, takes away things you felt were certain in life. 

I don’t quite know yet what it replaces them with, but I keep finding myself thinking of that rustic little bach, now abandoned and the days of wine and parties for it probably over. I think of my son’s first visit there when he was barely a year old and of a photo taken circa 2006 of my late father-in-law with his three grandsons on the porch, reading a book together.

My son grew up playing on those beaches, those black sands, summer after summer. My son’s now a university student and it sometimes feels like everything has changed since that photo was taken. 

But those moments – for us, for all the victims of Karekare, for all those wounded by Gabrielle – are still there, floating somewhere, and I like to think that no storm can ever really take them away for any of us. 

Amoeba Adventures 32 – the print edition – is here and now shipping!

It’s here! It’s shiny and tangible! Slightly delayed by flooding and chaos, the strictly limited print edition of AMOEBA ADVENTURES 32 is available for a mere US$7.50 shipped from New Zealand to anywhere in the known world!

And of course, the comic itself is also still here as a 100% free PDF download that you can read right this second by clicking here! Don’t miss what I humbly think is the wildest Amoeba Adventures story in years.

Plus, still available are limited print copies of Amoeba Adventures 30, Amoeba Adventures 31 and the special anniversary reprint of 1998’s Amoeba Adventures 27. Order all four comics together for a mere US$25 postpaid or single issues for $7.50 each. Order by sending funds to PayPal care of dirgas@gmail.com or contact me directly! Thanks as always for reading.